Thursday, 13 March 2014

Magnus Linklater: There may be a case for staging a fresh inquiry into Lockerbie

[What follows is the text of an article by Magnus Linklater in yesterday’s edition of The Times:]

There may be a case for staging a fresh inquiry into Lockerbie. This film does nothing to advance it. For all the sensational headlines it has provoked, it contributes no new evidence, merely a recycling of familiar allegations.

Those allegations are, of course, far more enticing than the evidence that originally convicted the Libyan, Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi — conspiracy theories always are. The al-Jazeera documentary suggests not only that the guilty verdict passed on him by a Scottish court was a miscarriage of justice, but that an “executive decision” to redirect the evidence and implicate Libya rather than Iran was taken early on.

Asked after the film was shown in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, how high up this decision went, the producer suggested that it was taken in the White House. That is some claim. In order to believe it, however, one has to accept the kind of evidence that would be described in a court of law as hearsay.

For all the talk about CIA documents, incriminating cables and terrorist cabals meeting in secret to plan the bombing, no new written evidence is produced to back it up.

Suspects are approached for confirmation about their roles, and shy away from the confrontation; lines of inquiry are left hanging in the air; worse, the main source of the allegations — a defecting Iranian — has been touting his information around for at least 15 years.

There may well be grounds for appeal. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission reported that the identification of al-Megrahi as the man who bought the clothes in which the bomb was wrapped was based on unreliable evidence, which it thought should be tested again. However, it is a long road from that to a claim that the entire Lockerbie case was a miscarriage of justice.

Just one section of the film serves to illustrate the point. A former CIA agent, Robert Baer, is interviewed at length. He claims that the bombing was carried out by a terrorist suspect called Abu Talb, who was rewarded after its success with large amounts of Iranian money.

The commission examined this in great detail, interviewing Baer three times in all. In the end, however, the Commission concluded that nothing he said would have stood up in court.

“As with all intelligence,” it reported, “the validity of [his] information was very much dependent upon the reliability of its source, for which in many cases Mr Baer was unable to vouch.”

It would, of course, be good to have the Lockerbie evidence tested again in a court of law. However, the one opportunity to do that was forfeited by al-Megrahi himself, when he chose to return to Libya rather than pursue his appeal. If he remains a convicted terrorist in the eyes of history, he only has himself to blame. 

[More about Magnus Linklater’s views on Lockerbie and the Megrahi conviction can be found here.]


  1. "However, the one opportunity to do that was forfeited by al-Megrahi himself, when he chose to return to Libya rather than pursue his appeal. If he remains a convicted terrorist in the eyes of history, he only has himself to blame."

    I will not say that I would like to see Linklater dying of cancer, in jail for something he didn't do.

    But it would be a bit interesting to see whether he would prefer to go home, or do more legal stuff with a system which rottenness he has experienced from the beginning.

  2. Magnus is being a bit disingenuous here. What he says about the bulk of that documentary is essentially true, and it more or less chimes with what John Ashton has been saying. However, there's a bit of it that most people seem to have overlooked, but which Magnus most certainly should not have overlooked.

    You guessed it, I'm talking about the part where I explained that the forensic evidence shows that the bomb went on board at Heathrow. It wasn't emphasised in the film and it hasn't been mentioned at all in any of the publicity, but Magnus was already aware of the issue and so should have picked up on it without any difficulty.

    That part has nothing to do with Mesbahi or any other dodgy Middle Eastern spies. It has nothing to do with "this shady character told me something he won't repeat on camera". It has nothing to say about who was responsible either, which may be why nobody is paying attention.

    The fact is, though, that a careful analysis of the blast-damaged luggage and airframe shows beyond any doubt at all that the bomb was in the suitcase Bedford saw in the container an hour before the flight from Frankfurt landed. That gives Megrahi an unbreakable alibi for the crime, because he was in Tripoli at that time. THAT is why we need an inquiry, not because of anything said by someone I wouldn't trust to tell me the time of day.

  3. A very good article and I certainly agree with the first paragraph. The Al Jazeera documentary was dire beyond belief. It was like a rehash of the Maltese Double X dropping Khalid Jafaar and "SPAG" and bringing in even dodgier evidence. I point this out as somebody who suggested to the Crown Office in 1996 that the primary suitcase may have been brought to England on the Gothenburg Ferry.

    Morag Kerr was very good though but stuck out like a sore thumb as the documentary kept banging on about Abu Talb visiting Malta. (The film falsely claimed Talb was in Sweden at the time of the Autumn Leaves arrests.)

    The Phyllis Diller character was a hoot (she seemed to think Ahmed Jibril was still alive) although I think she and "Operation Bird" (a turkey?) were meant to be taken seriously. Not by me. Her spiel was shot through his holes to numerous to mention.

    The point is this was not just a lousy documentary - it casts
    light on Megrahi's defence team. "Operation Bird" was central to his appeal! As I pointed out in my article "Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil" the defence team were staring at irrefutable evidence that page 51 of Dr Hayes notes was faked but instead they come up with something as credible as Majid Giaka and Vincent Cannistraro combined.

    We also had, yet again, Robert Baer (living rather well in Aspen) telling us the CIA were dininterested seekers after the truth convinced Iran was behind the bombing. This is the same Robert Baer who was on TV last week discussing the CIA's 30 year campaign to overthrow Gaddafi! (Incidentally the man who told John Aston Khalid Jafaar was a member of the PFLP-GC!) And how come he still has his card indexes from his days in the CIA?

    There was George Thomson in Malta poring through old copies of newspapers and discovered an article in Maltese featuring photographs of Abu Talb and Dalkamoni. Well I'm convinced of whatever point they were trying to make.

    And what a finale, a film of the outside of Khreesat's apartment and a recording of George Thomson having an argument with Abu Talb's son. TV highlight of the week!

    Mr Linklater makes some good points about CIA "intelligence" but actions speak louder than words. What interests me is the mad dash to get Matthew Gannon onto flight PA103. To me this indicates advance knowledge flight PA103 was doomed.

  4. I'm not sure about anyone else, but that article by Mr Linklater doesn't really make sense. Correct, the AJ doc fell short of some expectations, being dominated by old theories and hearsay from folk with about as much credibility as Mr Giaka (heard of him yet Magnus?), as noted, yet promptly announces an enquiry might be needed anyway? Colour me perplexed at this logic.

    Nevertheless, there was a portion of the documentary which was new to most observers: the Heathrow introduction. This, of course, is not new to Mr Linklater, having read Dr Kerr's book. Yet, strangely he couldn't even bring himself to acknowledge its relevance of its conclusions. Or not, if the notion takes him?

    Deary me, how disappointing, but sadly not all surprising, that journalists of vast experience and knowledge will accede to shallow and, as noted in the final paragraph, merciless conclusions.

    Certainly the programme (and the flurry of media reports recently) helps push the story into the public domain, and for that alone is welcomed, and undoubtedly Morag's portion and interview regarding the Heathrow evidence is critical in demonstrating the miscarriage of justice that occurred. Nevertheless, at times, the programme centred on too many of the old assertions.

    Rather than writers and producers (the Al Jazeera producers interview on Newsnight I thought was very poor) continuing to focus on potential culprits and shady characters, and instead concentrated the public's attention towards the irrefutable evidence at Heathrow, which proves beyond any doubt of Megrahi's innocence, and probe how all that evidence was missed or ignored, it would I’m sure prove far more constructive and fruitful.

  5. Folks will wonder why, in all his pronouncements on Lockerbie, Magnus Linklater always avoids the central evidence given at trial.

    Namely the fragment of timer circuit board discovered by Dr Thomas Hayes, and the identification evidence given by Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci.

    The Hayes fragment has now been proved false by two reputable and experienced metallurgists. It did not come from a batch said to have been sold to Libya in 1985. No-one knows where it came from. On this point therefore there is no proven connection to Libya or Al-Megrahi.

    The Maltese shopkeeper is proved by secret entries in the diary of the chief police investigator Harry Bell to have been negotiating throughout the investigation )1989-1991) for multi-million dollar reward. In exchange, in the words of the US Department of Justice "only if he gives evidence". And that evidence had to result in the conviction of Al-Megrahi, otherwise no reward would be paid.

    Bell and the prosecution advocates kept the diary from the judges. Deceived by this sleight of hand the judges remained totally unaware of the Gauci-DoJ negotiations. They concluded that Gauci was totally honest in his evidence.

    Mr Linklater is invited to comment on these two issues.

  6. About us.... Bang on the nail, old bean. The metallurgy report on PT/35b, the evidence that Megrahi was not the man who bought the clothes from Tony Gauci, and to that I would add the evidence that shows the suitcase Bedford saw was the bomb, are what it's all about.

    Nevertheless the media continue to give these matters a body-swerve and insist on concentrating on peripheral irrelevancies. They simply won't broadcast something that doesn't have a lurid accusation of someone else in it.

  7. Eddie, I find I rather despise Magnus. He's a journalist who has become part of the establishment, and is no longer interested in challenging that establishment, if he ever was.

    He has had several pictures drawn for him about this case, by John Ashton and by me. He seems to indulge in a positively wilful refusal to pay any attention to what he is being told. John has repeatedly explained to him that neither he nor I are alleging any massive conscious conspiracy to convict an innocent man, yet he repeatedly returns to make exactly that accusation against us.

    I believe he wrote his article for the Scottish Review before he read my book. I believe this because he only quoted from the (teasing) publicity material, not from the book, and then went on to criticise what seemed to be an entirely different volume. When he replied to my challenge over a week later he said he had read the book, which I have to believe, but when did he read it?

    He then tweeted to me "you may well be right". Uh, OK. Now what? His next sally was to ask if I had given those I accuse of incompetence "right of reply". Er, Magnus, I'm not sending the typescript to Hayes and Feraday and Orr and Henderson and asking them to comment before I publish, no. They can read it for themselves and respond as publicly as they want. So far, they have not responded. His next sally was to ask whether my case was proven or merely asserted. I asked him to explain to me where he thought my analysis was wrong - after all, I did show my working in great detail. That was the end of the conversation.

    He is being deeply disingenuous when he ignores the implications of the Heathrow evidence, because he has had every opportunity to understand its significance. He is an a position to make quite a splash if he chose to highlight it, but he studiously turns away from it.

    He is being positively inhuman when he demands that a man who has been given only three months to live by his doctors should give up hope of ever returning home and choose to die in prison in a foreign country, in order to preserve the possibility of clearing his name posthumously. I would ask him to imagine himself in that position. In Libya, say. Would he give up all hope of returning to Scotland and seeing his family again?

    Of course the mantra is, but he didn't have to give up the appeal. We know that, out here in the world with no psychological pressure on us. He didn't know that, and in fact had become persuaded of the opposite. We might ask how that happened, Kenny?

    Magnus's failure to take on board the evidence he has been made aware of saddens me. His failure to show any sympathy for Megrahi's plight absolutely sickens me.

  8. The most dispiriting paragraph in this article is this one "There may well be grounds for appeal. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission reported that the identification of al-Megrahi as the man who bought the clothes in which the bomb was wrapped was based on unreliable evidence, which it thought should be tested again. However, it is a long road from that to a claim that the entire Lockerbie case was a miscarriage of justice."
    Magnus knows very well that there is a huge amount of evidence pointing to Megrahi's innocence beyond Gauci's laughable identification. Even the SCCRC went well beyond that and there is plenty more which has come out since.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Softly softly catchee monkee, Grendal. And hi again by the way.

    The very fact that Magnus has said that at all may signal the first tentative step on a climb-down. He has acknowledged what the SCCRC said, and I think that might even be a first.

    When I was on GMS with him on the morning of the anniversary this point came up. I tried to explain to him that if you examine the underlying logic of the court judgement, jettisoning the clothes purchase completely undermines the conviction. This is because the reason the judges decided that the bomb started at Malta despite all the evidence it really didn't, was because the man who bought the clothes was at Luqa airport when KM180 departed. It was part of the circular reasoning they were indulging in. But if Megrahi didn't buy the clothes, then the man who bought the clothes was not at Luqa when KM180 departed. This means that we can no longer assert that the bomb was carried on KM180. Therefore Megrahi was not present at the airport when the bomb was loaded on to the plane.

    Is that clear? Thought not. But the fact is, the Malta ingestion relies on Megrahi having been the man who bought the clothes. So showing that he didn't buy the clothes would have been completely exculpatory.

    I don't expect Magnus to follow that. I kind of hoped he was bright enough to follow the suitcase jigsaw, but it's hard to tell. He seems to be fixated on getting John in particular to admit that he thinks something that might be described as a conspiracy might have happened. He seems to think that if he can do that, it discredits everything John has ever said, because as we all know conspiracies never actually happen, surprising we even have a word for the concept really.

    But I detect a slight softening. Time will tell if it will progress or not.

  11. An interesting and intelligent thread. Having been the first to propose that the primary suitcase was introduced at Heathrow I would be interested in the opinion of Eddie and About Us on what I thought was a very significant discovery I made (expressed in my article "Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil") that the SCCRC were wrong to conclude that both page 51 of Dr Hayes notes of the 12th May 1989 (recording the discovery of the timer fragment and PT/2, fragments of a Toshiba bombeat cassette recorder PT/2) were genuine when the first photograph of these exhibits dated the 22nd May shows PT/2 supposedly before it was taken apart.

    Like the Heathrow origin this seems to me irrefutable. Am I wrong?

  12. Baz, kudos indeed is due for pursuing the matter of Bedford’s suitcase and its unexplained introduction at Heathrow. Especially your dogged efforts in corresponding with govt officials and investigators. However, since most observers were lacking the full complement of evidence, inc all the statements provided at the time by the Heathrow loaders, it was simply therefore impossible to conclude with absolute certainty the implication of this suitcase’s introduction. However, I’m sure even you would acknowledge that with the evidence and the statements now revealed and examined by Dr Kerr, we are now in the position to fully appreciate the composition of the baggage loaded –and bags which were not - into 4041 and its, now, utterly irrefutable conclusions.

    In relation to PT/2, PT/35(b) and page 51, I have commented before on many of these matters and largely agree with your article and its conclusions. You raise some pertinent points regarding the SCCRC’s investigation and conclusions on these items and the corresponding dates between arrivals at RARDE, Haye’s notes and the corresponding photographs. It does appear unsustainable to me for the SCCRC to simply assert that the critical photograph 117 relating to the apparent initial discovery of the PT/35 and PT/2 may have been taken “before, or at the very latest on 22nd May”, and remain a valid corroboration of the notes allegedly taken by Hayes 10 days before.

    Given that the date of the negative of photo 116 remains inconclusive (“not before 12 May”), and incongruous nature of the negatives being inserted into dated ‘sheaths’, this undoubtedly also creates the potential for, shall we say, some element of flexibility in the introduction of items to the chain of evidence. Furthermore, page 112 of Hayes notes from 10th Oct 1989 seems to lend weight to the possibility that PT2 & PT35(b) were not present while these notes – all relating to PI995 – were taken.

    PT35, and PT2, which were apparently examined and noted on the 12th May, and despite their crucial importance, if not by this point in the investigation as Hayes' and Feraday didn't make anything of it until September, neither are referred to in any way in the later examination conducted on the 10th October in relation to the other items given the reference PP8932. Your article examines many of these inconsistencies and presents a damning indictment of the whole investigation and trial around these matters. Your examination of these issues has also left the SCCRC conclusions looking somewhat inept, and although they did reveal issues which certainly undermined Megrahi’s conviction, in light of what is now known regarding Heathrow, overall was quite some way short of its presumed capabilities and reasoning.

    Just a footnote to a previous post Baz: Ahmed Jibril is most certainly still alive and currently in Beirut. He was only recently interviewed after he and his son fled the Yarmouk district in Damascus after the area was overrun by factional extremist groups currently in Syria.

  13. The difficulty with the entire RARDE situation and Hayes in particular is bugger's muddle. I was shocked speechless when I saw the full set of Hayes's examination notes, because I had understood the pp. 51-56 renumbering to be an isolated anomaly in an otherwise ordered document. Far from it. The whole thing is an indescribable mess of interpolated pages and non-consecutive dates that simply defies description. There is a respectable case to be made that pages 50 and 51 were later interpolations, but in the middle of that muddle it's not really possible to prove it beyond doubt.

    You might wonder if the disorganisation might actually be a deliberate ploy to make it easy to conceal later alterations or interpolations; I couldn't possibly comment. Given the findings of the May Inquiry, it's a thought that can't be lightly dismissed. But if that was the purpose, it actually worked.

    The other thing to take into account is the clear evidence of poor analytical skills. Feraday in particular was not the sharpest knife in the drawer by a long way. His "two postulated positions" thing just makes you want to give him a smack in the mouth and tell him not to be so bloody stupid. Which Peter Fraser almost did during the FAI.

    In this context I'm unsure about the dating of the photographs. It's true that if page 51 accurately describes what Hayes did on 12th May, photograph 117 was taken on 12th May. Not 11th May, not 13th May and not 22nd May. The photograph seems to be dated 22nd May. Baz thinks that's the day it was supposed to have been taken, by the RARDE system, but did they even have a system?

    In terms of the date when PT/35b was first recorded as present within the chain of evidence, 10 days in May is neither here nor there. If you're going to fake that lot up, why get the date of the photo wrong? The suspicion has to be that the date on the negative sheaths might be the day the photo was taken, might be the day when whoever was filing it thought it was taken, or might be the day the film was developed or the day the filing job was done, according to the whim of the moment.

    The more I see of what was going on at RARDE, the more it looks like a bunch of borderline incompetents indulging in cargo cult forensics. I simply cannot tell through all that fog whether anyone was genuinely at it or not.

    I am rather harbouring the suspicion that if PT/35b (or more realistically the entire collar and its contents) were a fabrication, this was something prepared at a very early stage and planted for the investigators to find. Then the brain-dead incompetence at RARDE resulted in the bloody circuit board being shoved in a file and ignored for four months, then fiddled around to no great effect for another four months, then turned over to the Scottish cops who embarked on their own de novo investigation while those who wanted the chase to turn towards Libya stood on the sidelines gnashing their teeth.

    If that was the case, I don't know what is says about what the hell was going on. I hope I live long enough to find out. I might manage another 25 years with sufficient incentives.